The American By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter XVI

Summary

The next days were the happiest in Newman's life. He saw Madame de Cintré every day. He also ran into the young Madame de Bellegarde and often had the impression that she wanted to say something to him — particularly something about how unpleasant her husband is. But Newman is determined not to do anything which would allow the Bellegardes to say he caused unpleasantness in their house.

Once Madame de Cintré warned Newman that she didn't come up to his ideal, but he refuses to believe it. She is everything he has ever looked for.

On the night of the grand ball, Newman is radiantly happy. He is ready to be friendly to everyone and to love everyone, even the Bellegardes. Madame de Bellegarde introduces him to a group of her friends, but all of them look somewhat alike to Newman. Thus, later when the Marquis Urbain de Bellegarde prepares to introduce him, he has already forgotten who these people were. When he is introduced to the Duchess ("The greatest lady in France"), he laughs uproariously at some of her remarks. She compliments him on obtaining the magnificent Claire de Cintré, and comments that the Bellegardes are very exacting people. She is not sure that at this moment she possesses their esteem.

Later when he meets Mrs. Tristram, he wonders if he is holding his head too high. Mrs. Tristram tells him little, but she has been observing M. de Bellegarde, and she feels that he doesn't like the entire proceedings. Newman excuses himself and goes to find Madame de Bellegarde. He finds her talking to Lord Deepmere who is embarrassed when Newman suddenly appears. Madame de Bellegarde tells Newman that she has been giving Lord Deepmere some excellent advice. Newman tells Lord Deepmere to accept her advice. Madame de Bellegarde tells Lord Deepmere to go and find Madame de Cintré and ask her to dance.

Newman tells Madame de Bellegarde that the ball is something he will always remember. She responds that she will never forget it.

She walks with Newman through the rooms, and then retires. Newman notices Madame de Cintré in the conservatory talking with someone and decides to approach her. Her companion is Lord Deepmere. When Newman approaches, Lord Deepmere becomes very red in the face. Madame de Cintré hints that they were discussing something that was to Lord Deepmere's credit but not necessarily to everyone's. After he leaves, Madame de Cintré emphasizes that Lord Deepmere is "a very honest little fellow." Newman asks Madame de Cintré if she is satisfied with him, and she answers that she is very happy.

Analysis

The chapter opens with a discussion between Madame de Cintré and Newman about Lord Deepmere. Without saying anything against him, it is apparent that Madame de Cintré finds him rather peculiar. Then Newman finds Lord Deepmere in conversation with Madame de Bellegarde and Lord Deepmere is embarrassed by the appearance of Newman. Then at the end of the chapter, Newman finds Lord Deepmere in private and agitated conversation with Madame de Cintré. Thus, his role in this chapter is central to the following actions in later chapters.

As Madame de Cintré says, blood is thicker than water. Earlier we had seen that the Marquis de Bellegarde was delighted to find Lord Deepmere. Then we must assume that he has plans for Lord Deepmere to marry Madame de Cintré. Then Madame de Bellegarde was apparently giving him the same advice. The conversation between the three is filled with double entendre or double meaning. Finally, we find Lord Deepmere in conversation with Madame de Cintré. Apparently from her remarks and from his embarrassment, he has revealed the advice that Madame de Bellegarde has given him. He is honest enough to reveal the possible treachery being perpetrated against Newman, and Madame de Cintré is wise enough to appreciate it and promises Newman that she will someday tell him, but she is also troubled. The reader should be aware of the subtle ways in which James allows the reader to know the above facts. It is not said directly, we must read into James' offhand statements what is not stated directly. For example, Lord Deepmere feels like going and getting tipsy. This is apparently not from a rejection by Madame de Cintré. There is nothing between them that would allow for such a reaction. Thus, he is probably disgusted with the duplicity of the Bellegardes. Likewise, Madame de Cintré would not say that the conversation was to "Lord Deepmere's credit, but it is not to everyone's" if Lord Deepmere had not conducted himself in an honorable fashion. She means it was good and honorable for Lord Deepmere to tell her of Madame de Bellegarde's advice but it is not to Madame de Bellegarde's credit to give such advice.

Newman, in his happiness, fails to catch many of the delicate and subtle occurrences at the ball. Thus, Mrs. Tristram has to employ her rather discriminating eye for detail and point out some things to Newman. But generally, Newman misses the nuances. For example, the young Madame de Bellegarde wants to say something to him, but Newman intentionally doesn't give her the chance. It is implied that she would inform him of the duplicity being perpetrated by the Bellegardes, but Newman fails to learn of this, simply because he refuses to participate in any sort of duplicity with the young Madame de Bellegarde.

James employs his technique of contrast again, by having the Tristrams meet the Bellegardes and by having Tom Tristram give his view of the old lady. He found her dreadful and wanted to say to her that he manufactured broomsticks for old witches. But Tristram's view of both Madame de Cintré and Madame de Bellegarde adds a touch of the real to our view of these people. Perhaps in Tristram's recounting of how nice Madame de Cintré was, we have a more real view of the lady than in Newman's accolades.

The reader should be aware also of the discrepancy between what Newman thinks of the French and what the French nobility think of themselves. Each thinks he is a distinctive noble, but Newman thinks they all look alike and has to warn M. Urbain de Bellegarde not to introduce him to the same people again. Newman's quality is best brought out by his natural reactions to the Grand Duchess. He thoroughly enjoys the duchess' sense of humor, but by reacting so honestly, he offends the Marquis de Bellegarde, who considers it perhaps a bit disrespectful. But the duchess is receptive to Newman and invites him to visit her. Finally, the reader should remember that this ball is the reason why the Bellegardes cannot allow the marriage. It is more than they can take when they see Newman among their most intimate friends.

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At the ball, who tries to point out some things to Newman, when he fails to realize them on his own?




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